Monday, March 02, 2009

Hope springs infernal?

Hope is by far the most difficult subject to write skeptically about; to do so seems anti-American, if not anti-humanitarian. Readers react with a knee-jerk distaste to such skepticism on principle, before they even read what you write or think about what you're prodding them to think about. And in saying that, I don't mean to sound patronizing or to impugn anyone's intelligence; intelligence has nothing to do with it. Many people of superior intellect are simply incapable of applying that intellect to the proposition of hope, and optimism, and a positive outlook on life. I'm reminded again of Bill Maher's astute observation about critical thinkers who are also devoutly religious: The only way Maher can explain that phenomenon to himself is that their spirituality exists in a part of their psyche that's "walled off" from the rest of cognition. Skepticism about everything else under the sun may be just fine, even requiredyet that one area, and that one area alone, is off-limits.

That's why I'm thankful that The Wall Street Journal asked me to review this new book, But Wait...The
re's More!, by Remy Stern. The book is about infomercials, and I'm thinking I'll recommend it. I can't say much more right now because the Journal is paying me for the right to be the first place that the review appears. But I was struck by a quote on page 119 from wealth-building guru Russ Dalbey. Asked, in essence, what makes people so susceptible to the outlandish claims one typically hears in get-rich-quick infomercials*, Dalbey tells Stern, "I think it comes down to hope. People want hope. And that's what infomercials provide. The hope that they can change their lives for the better. The only way you can get their attention is appealing to their hopes and dreams [emphasis added]."

Now, that's terrific if what you're selling can actually deliver on the hopes and dreams to which you're appealing (or at least if you sincerely believe that it can, even if you turn out to be wrong). The sad part is that most SHAM-style/SHAM-inspired products and services don't deliver on that implied promise. Sadder still is that they never had any intention of delivering. To the l
ords of SHAM, your hope is your vulnerability. They rely on that vulnerability as a way in, a way of circumventing your usual defenses. And here, I'm thinking of a guy like, say, Bob Proctor. The freelance success guru was a key figure in The Secrethe's the doofus who tells us that "disease cannot live in a body that's in a healthy emotional state." So now he looks around him and notices that The Secret didn't exactly usher in a period of worldwide prosperity and fulfillment, and rather than confessing something like, "OK, let's face it, a positive attitude alone won't do it for you" or even "Your positive attitude won't necessarily carry the day if everyone around you is negative," what does the emotionally healthy and therefore presumably immortal Proctor** do? He comes up with a brand-new product that explains why the Law of Attraction, as preached in The Secret, didn't get the job done. That's right: Never mind what you heard before; never mind all those gushy promises from Rhonda Byrne. The Secret is sooo yesterday! He's found the real secret to unleashing the untold powers of the Law of Attraction! Eleven of them, actually, which he calls his "11 Forgotten Laws." In fact, these new "laws" catalyze The Secret, such that it's really no good without them. And you know what? He'll let you download them for the low, low, special price of $97.

That is what we're up against, folks. That kind of smiling, parasitic scumbaggery. And the sad part is, people, even smart people, in their weakened state of perpetual hopefulness, fall for it. They tell themselves, Well, maybe it's worth a shot...

Hope, in its pure state, is a lovely emotion, and I'm all for it; it's something we should ideally carry with us throughout the day, in everything we do. The practical problem with hope, though, is that it blinds us. Or at minimum, it causes us to see life through rose-colored glasses. Either way, hope impairs visual acuity. (Not every glass is half-full; some are totally empty.) Because of hope, and the deep-seated need to sustain it, we don't see the red flags and
also, in part, because of hopewe don't pick up on the sinister motives of those who would do us harm; those who are using our hope against us, distracting us by smiling and assuring us that they want the best for us, counseling us to reject the naysayers, the apostles of doom and gloom...while they reach down and pick our pockets of every last dime we have.

* Understand, Stern didn't ask the question exactly that way, and Dalbey wasn't speaking ironically or intending his answer as an admission of guilt. He believes in his product, or at least claims to. And yet his words are revealing.
** And there's something about his name that makes me think of colonoscopy, which really fits him to a tee.


Anonymous said...

'Scientist' Bob Proctor is so unfortunately named. Just seeing his name in print makes me squirm in my chair in discomfort.

Regarding hope, I personally don't have a problem with hope, but then I am not looking for certainties.

Perhaps if we were all tatooed across the forehead at birth with the words:
'Be who you are, there are no guarantees'
we might all be more content, bored witless but more content.

Anonymous said...

Having read your book, this is as good a post as you've written since the first days of SHAMBLOG. This says it all. It explains the sucker syndrome perfectly. Keep up the good work!

Steven Sashen said...

Oh, I can't wait to read the book and your review. Infomercials are among my favorite forms of entertainment.

Having met some of the hucksters of hope, it seems to me that they've imbibed the same Kool-Aid they're selling. Due to various cognitive glitches (they're not "biases," they're demonstrations that our minds are not all they're cracked up to be), they actually believe what they're selling.

And, like all humans, once they believe it, they'll do everything they can to find supporting evidence for their beliefs and discount information that contradicts them.

That said, it still amazes me that in the face of glaring evidence that what they're selling does notwork, they ask themselves, "How can I make it work better?" rather than, "Is this all total crap?"

Elizabeth said...

You sure have a knack for catchy titles, Steve.:)

Yekaterina said...

Great title, great post!

Anonymous said...

I seroiusly doubt that the likes of Scientist Bob believes the doo-doo he is peddling.

These guys are slick and watch the stats on their infomercials etc.
like the businessmen they are.

Most of them quote that 90% of the product they shift is never even opened, let alone read or put into practice. Some privately put that figure higher.

In a weird way that gives me hope, people are relieved of some dosh but are untainted by the doo-doo.

On the other hand it does underline what a sorry bunch of mug punters we humans all are.
(And I do mean all of us, without exception.)

And on the third hand, for the 90% who paid up but did not try the product, they paid but passed on what could have been a valuable lesson in the discernment we all require to navigate through this complex world.

I seem to have run out of hands.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see you get back to "dancing with the one who brung ya," after all that political and sports stuff. Nice post. One of the all time best titles.

Stever Robbins said...

I clicked through to Proctor's 11 laws and gosh darn it, Steve, I want it. I really do. I want the secret of success that doesn't require busting my butt 90 hours a week.

Obviously, the CEOs of the current big banks all practiced The Secret, and a TRILLION DOLLARS is raining down on them, just for being their sterling little selves.

If all it takes is $97 and 11 little secrets, then count me in, baby!

... oh, wait. It doesn't work, does it? DARN!

Steve Salerno said...

But Stever, look at it this way: If Proctor's current product doesn't work for you, I'm the sure "14 keys that unlock the 11 forgotten laws" can't be far behind...

Jen said...

Elizabeth, I am so glad for you! And happy happy birthday, to you and to Steve.

I will chime in with the choir here who "agrees" with the hope shtick, as presented. It is right on, Steve.

Now you're probably thinking this is getting boring, with too much agreement. So, let me just add a dissenting word.

Um ... well, ... er, I can't think of one, unfortunately. Thanks for such a great blog. It reminds me so very often of things that matter, real things like the pure state of hope, and the striving that is necessary in order to get the things and situations we need to come into being.

So, manifest that, then take it to the river bank. ;)

I love it, my WV is "outma"!

Steven Sashen said...

Hi Anon,

That Proctor knows 90% will buy and not even open the box is a separate issue. He knows he makes his money off of people who simply won't take action, and rationalizes that by saying, "If I give them the keys to the car, it's not my fault if they don't drive it. The car works."

I think he believes that anyone who claims to have achieved something due to what he's teaching, REALLY did achieve it due to what he's teaching.

And, conversely, I think he believes that anyone who said they tried what he teaches and DID NOT get results, didn't really apply what he teaches... and, therefore, needs another set of teachings (for only $97).

Steve Salerno said...

Jen: "Outma!" We need to create a situation/usage for that.

Maybe that would be a suburban wife and mother who gets fed up one day with the "sham" life she's living, declares her contempt for her hubby and confesses that she's really a lesbian..?

Mike Cane said...

Here ya go, Steve:

Dr. Robert Anthony's Advanced Formula for Success - Dr. Robert Anthony

Copyright © 1988 Dr. Robert Anthony

QUOTE follows:

*We Are Prisoners of Hope*

We become prisoners of our hope. And hope is what keeps all suffering in place. Hope is the expectation that something outside of ourselves, something or someone external, is going to come to our rescue, and we will live happily ever after. And it's that little rush of hope that keeps us going from one disappointment to another, because it keeps us from taking responsibility and taking action. Letting go of hope can be a difficult experience at first. because if we believe that there is no hope, we think, "How am I going to survive?" The fact that nothing or no one outside of ourselves will save us is the truth. In the beginning, this truth is difficult to accept, but after we have accepted it, something interesting begins to happen. It becomes freeing. We can finally stop waiting for someone or something that was never going to show up anyway.

Once we give up hope and stop asking a source outside of ourselves to deliver something that they cannot deliver. there's a dynamic shift in our relationship to life. We begin to choose advancement instead of avoidance, and we become responsible for the quality of our own life. As long as we believe in hope, we will be a prisoner of our own hope. It's only when we become hopeless that we will take responsibility for our lives. [pgs. 160-161]

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm with Steven Sashen; I can't wait to read your review (and the book), because I too think infomercials are very entertaining.

As for the Proctorologist himself, let's not forget that Scientist Bob was also the big brains behind the Science of Getting Rich (SGR) scam that came out a little while after The Secret. This was the pyramid scheme where you paid nearly $2,000 for a briefcase full of CDs and DVDs and some other junk, which granted you the right to sell a $2,000 briefcase to as many other people as you could manage, which would net you a handsome commission for every sucker you pulled into the scheme. Jack "Chicken Soup" Canfield and Michael Beckwith (the dreadlocked guy) were in on the deal with Bob. Beckwith backed out of it for a while but rejoined later.

Well, the SGR scheme seems to be no more. I had just blogged about this matter the other day when someone sent me a link to a site on which Bob appears to be running a close-out sale on the briefcases. They're only $297 now; get 'em while they last.

Proctor is definitely the elder statesman of the New Wage, and he gets involved in one questionable scheme after another. Whether he or any of the other New-Wage gurus believe their own shtick is open to question. But there does seem to be a thread of cynicism connecting most of these jokers, although I'm sure that they or their followers would just say that assessment is merely a projection of my own cynicism.

By the way, Proctor's partner in the "11 Forgotten Laws" scheme, Mary Manin Morrissey, has some dodgy money issues in her past as well; her second ex-husband did prison time for defrauding the couple's church of about ten million dollars. Of course, Mary "didn't know a thing" about what was going on. Ex-hubby took the fall for her, in any case. Proctor sure can pick his partners; for a while he was doing seminars and products with the infamous Aussie spruiker David Schirmer, but Proctor ended up successfully suing Schirmer for deceptive practices.

No honor among thieves, huh?

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: What I (particularly) like about your comments is that you always add some deeper context and historical perspective to things.

You know, this stuff is so patently bogus...I wonder if there's a book in it? And I'm actually half-serious in saying that. I gave the whole New Wage wing very sketchy treatment in SHAM, really zeroing in only on Marianne Williamson, who's the least of our worries nowadays. I'm just beginning to realize how prevalent--and insidious--this garbage is.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, I am one of the experts on how prevalent this stuff is. It's been around for decades. "The Secret" merely brought it more into the mainstream, with generous help from Oprah, of course (as you discuss in your more recent post).

"Is there a book in it?" you ask. I'd say there are several books, and they just might find a larger audience now that people are so disillusioned because of the economy.

Meanwhile, however, the agents of denial, the New-Wage gurus, are still preaching that the recession is only a figment of the nasty mainstream media's imagination. Here's a recent Tweet from Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale:

"Meditating in the marketplace. Recession? People are out buying."

There, you see? It's all okay.

Elizabeth said...

Here's a recent Tweet from Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale:

"Meditating in the marketplace. Recession? People are out buying."

There, you see? It's all okay.

Connie, what are you doing following Joe Zero Limits Tweets? This cannot be good for you.

OTOH, if Joe says people are buying, people must be buying. And he must be right. Well, just yesterday, I myself bought a new purple scarf and a pound of brussel sprouts (yum, both). So it is OK, you see?

Anonymous said...

'That said, it still amazes me that in the face of glaring evidence that what they're selling does notwork, they ask themselves, "How can I make it work better?" rather than, "Is this all total crap?"

Perhaps I am a lot more cynical than you, Steven Sashen, but I know someone who worked with the Scientist on a potential business op. It didn't quite come off (to date, but it sits on a shelf awaiting the moment ---- only about 1 in 10 of these things ever really fly)

My friend, who is very successful in this field in his own right, is quite open about the crappiness of the products. In fact he learnt his trade selling decent stuff but the market was small.

A consumate businessman, his question (and I doubt the Scientist is any different) would be not "How can I make this work better?" but "How can I package this pile of junk in order to sell more?"
Dr Robert Anthony has answered that one, (courtesy of Mike Cane)

If I'd paid $97 for the good Dr's course and learned that little nugget for the first time, I'd consider it money well spent. However, even the good Dr has an endless supply of back-end products to push, also.

I like my friend and I've learned much from him, but I wouldn't buy his products.

Cosmic Connie said...

Elizabeth wrote:

"Connie, what are you doing following Joe Zero Limits Tweets? This cannot be good for you."

I think Twitter in general is not very good for me, but Joe's Tweets give me something else to snark about. :-)

More important, it's great to see you here, Eliz. I think you're good for all of us.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, dear Connie. And yes, I'd agree that Twitter cannot be good for human beings. Don't we have enough problems and stresses?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Don't we have enough problems and stresses?"

A question I've raised many times. Aside from the fact that Twitter is a black hole that sucks our time & energy, I have found it better that I avoid reading anything the Butthead of the Internet has to say, in any forum. I know Vitale well, know what he is and how he works. If that's what it takes to be wealthy, I'd gladly choose to be poor.